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Post EU's Nobel Peace Prize; Madrid to Czech Republic by Train
Created by John Eipper on 10/14/12 6:25 AM

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EU's Nobel Peace Prize; Madrid to Czech Republic by Train (Paul Pitlick, USA, 10/14/12 6:25 am)

I have to say, I'm with Jordi Molins (13 October) on this one, and here's why. My wife and I recently completed a trip by train from Madrid to the Eastern Czech Republic. We crossed a lot of national boundaries, with no hassle. People were great everywhere. But here's what really caught my attention. We re-visited some distant cousins who live about 120 km east of Prague. We stayed in the town of Rychnov nad Kněžnou, the relatives live in Javornice (a few miles east of that), and we took a trip around the countryside, which included the town of Orlické Záhoří (a few miles further east and north), which is on the border with Poland.

What we saw on our Czech road-trip:  In the 1930s, the land across the border was part of Germany. The Czechs recognized the military threat posed by the Germans, so they built fortifications--heavy concrete bunkers (see also:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czechoslovak_border_fortifications ) with a string of anti-tank "Czech hedgehogs." Eventually the Germans came from another direction. According to the Wikipedia article, the Germans then used these fortifications to practice how to overcome the Maginot Line in the west.

Anyway, we all know how that all turned out. From the 1940s to the late-1980s, the land to the east was Poland. Although both Czechoslovakia and Poland were run by communists, there was apparently no sense of camaraderie at the border, which remained fairly inhospitable. I've also enclosed some pictures current near Orlické Záhoří, where there's a bridge across the river. There are signs at the west end of the bridge discretely letting you know that there's a border there, but that's it. Nobody cares if you cross the border or not.

In one of the pictures at the bunker, I'm one of the 3 people, and the others are something like 5th cousins--one about my age, the other in his late 40s. Hard to believe now, but had there been a shooting war with the Soviet bloc in the 1960s, we'd have been on opposite sides. While it's true I share perhaps 3% of my genetic material with my cousins, we had a lot more in common than that.

Getting back to the EU, it seems to me that Europe is a lot better off now than it was for most of the 20th century, even if things aren't 100% perfect. Certainly, there are many reasons for that, but it looks the EU is much more a positive force than a negative.

JE comments:  Sounds like a fascinating trip, which reminds me of my backpack-and-Eurail trek from Leningrad to Prague to Paris to Barcelona in 1985.  Here are three of Paul's photographs:

Paul Pitlick (center) with two distant cousins, beside 1930s' Czech bunker


Czech bunker with anti-tank "hedgehog."  Photo Paul Pitlick


Polish-Czech border markings.  Photo Paul Pitlick

Paul illustrates one clear triumph of the EU:  Who can forget the unpleasantries that came with crossing European national borders?  As a borderlands guy myself, I wish we could adopt the same system for the US-Canada crossing.

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  • EU's Nobel Peace Prize (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/14/12 2:39 PM)
    As one who traveled extensively in Europe, it was befuddling to me to hear insinuations that the EU is anything short of a marvelous social/political/economic experiment which has produced much more good than bad.

    Overall, the idea that a bunch of very distinct (along many dimensions) nations which periodically attacked each other have had the wisdom to plan to live as a peaceful evolving federation is amazing enough. Historically humans have been adept about breaking nations into smaller groups, but usually it has taken powerful dictators to merge subgroups into larger ones. That the EU nations have had the common sense and discipline to stick together for so many years is practically an inspirational miracle.

    Obviously the union is not without problems when you look at it from the streets: I remember a discussion with an old lady in Venice two years after the Euro replaced the Lira. As a visitor with US dollars I noticed that everything was relatively much more expensive; as a native who converted from Liras to Euros, the lady was much more upset.

    To me as a frequent foreign visitor to various European nations, the biggest loss was the slow but persistent cultural homogenization. Increasingly, the wonderful national idiosyncrasies have been fading over time. Once in the city of Guimaraes, Portugal, my partner wanted to show me something he was visibly excited about. He drove me to this quite large underground parking lot, took me to this elevator to this very nice mall with a wide collection of well-known fast food and other retail outlets. I might as well have been in New York or Chicago.

    On a different topic, I am pleased that John Eipper "fact checked" the truthfulness of Randy Black's 14 October post by pointing out that "Obama-bashers like to contrast today's [oil] prices with the floor that was set in 2009, but they conveniently overlook the prices during the summer of 2008, which were nearly as high as they are presently. By this logic, the best thing we could do to lower prices again would be to bring on another crippling recession." Further, we all "still would like to hear Randy's answer to Paul Pitlick's question: is it realistic to claim that four million new energy-sector jobs could be created if the federal government would 'unfetter' the industry?"

    My understanding is that oil prices are determined in international markets subject to many fundamental factors as well as a large number of very powerful/rich speculators. To blame Obama for high oil prices is silly.

    Last, I am positively impressed with a presentation by Professor Richard Wolff regarding the need for corporate dominance of our political system, lest labor unions return from oblivion and governments and people start thinking and behaving as if corporations are not people. His presentation also cut through many misconceptions regarding corporate contributions to society, and linked the reality of corporate top-down control to employee sense of powerlessness. His worldwide perspective about corporate power confirms from a different perspective many of the points I have presented before in this Forum.

    For those interested in social/political/economic issues, this opinion leader should be worthy of consideration.

    JE comments:  Randy Black was not being untruthful when he cited the gasoline prices of January 2009; he just did not mention the peak that had been reached the previous summer.
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    • EU's Nobel Peace Prize (David Gress, Denmark 10/15/12 3:33 AM)
      I am somewhat disheartened to read WAISers, by definition experienced and thoughtful folk, disagreeing so vehemently about two large issues, namely, the US presidential election and the role and future of the European Union.

      I suppose that on both issues, emotions and long-standing political attitudes govern much of what one thinks or says. As to the EU, I have changed my own mind over the years. I once considered the Single Market a fine idea; I still do, but the ruling bureaucrats in Brussels, most of whom have never held an honest job in their lives, have turned this good thing into a monster of control, not least in the control of "deviant" opinions, such as those even minimally critical of Islam.

      I do not share Jordi Molins's very romantic idea of a Europe without borders. That can be easily achieved without the bureaucracy of Brussels. It is in no way, none at all, the achievement of the EU that Europe has been without war (except for that unfortunate business in ex-Yugoslavia) since 1945. The current EU breeds conflict; it does not abate it. The sooner the Euro breaks apart, the better for the peoples of Europe, I now believe. And I say that as one who voted for the Euro in Denmark in 2000, to my regret.

      As for the election in the US, I am utterly disheartened by both candidates, neither of whom seems to have the least grasp of the real challenges facing the American people, and both of whom express the most complete contempt for that people and its interests. I do have the vote, in California as it happens, where Obama will of course win, so any vote of mine for Romney, unwillingly but necessarily given, is wasted. I vote for the Mormon because he is marginally less hostile to American interests than the incumbent, who is utterly indifferent. But it is a choice, as we say in Denmark, between the plague and cholera. Both men are despicable (as politicians); as private men they may be as pleasant as they seem.

      JE comments: The EU was trending positive on WAIS over the weekend; with this posting from David Gress (and Nigel Jones's next in the queue), we're seeing an about-face.

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      • US Elections 2012; Response to David Gress (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/15/12 7:34 AM)
        As one who supports Ron Paul, it is not difficult for me to share David Gress's opinion (15 October) about this presidential election: "disheartened by both candidates, neither of whom seems to have the least grasp of the real challenges facing the American people, and both of whom express the most complete contempt for that people and its interests..." However, Obama seems to care about the American people a little more, while Romney seems wholeheartedly more supportive of corporations.

        There is a reason why for the last few decades American workers got no real income increases despite the enormous increases in productivity; why corporations were allowed/encouraged to export jobs and manufacture cheaper products without any consideration for regulations on product quality, environment protection, and labor laws; why corporations have been allowed to merge and acquire competitors to obtain near monopolies in many industry sectors; why the Federal Reserve Bank cartel has been allowed to flood the financial system and create a series of financial bubbles and bursts. The reason is simple: profits, and more profits to the market manipulators. Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty, so David Gress is right in being disheartened in this election, but I believe Romney/Ryan will do a better job of squeezing the American people and enabling the corporations/wealthy to cut their taxes by further sharing the necessary military/infrastructure expenditures burden with the middle class.

        On a different topic, I have difficulty understanding Nigel Jones's (15 October) sharp criticism of the EU situation while maintaining an idealistic view of US democracy, despite our massive amounts of corporate cash influencing elections, widespread vote suppression and misinformation.

        Last, for those WAISers who support Romney, I would love to read their expectations for the US social/economic conditions after four years of a Romney presidency.

        JE comments: While we're at it, how about a crystal-ball appraisal of the state of international affairs in 2016 under R & R.

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        • Domestic and International Prospects of a Romney Presidency (Tor Guimaraes, USA 10/16/12 11:03 AM)
          Disheartened by Obama and Romney for the reasons indicated in my post of 15 October, I can nevertheless look behind the recent smoke screens and see over time abundant and clear evidence that Obama personally and politically cares more about the American people, while Romney seems wholeheartedly more supportive of corporations.

          Thus, compared to Obama, from a Romney presidency I would expect income tax reduction for all, more income inequality, more progress reducing the deficit on the backs of the middle class, more corporate deregulation and misbehavior against consumers, labor, and the environment. I expect no major change reining in the Federal Reserve Bank cartel until the deficit is cut severely, because any hint of Fed weakness interfering in the bond market will lead to higher interest rates and greater government payments on the debt. The economy, always dependent on consumer ability to indulge, will remain depressed, even though the stock market may remain inflated.

          Regarding John Eipper's challenge for a "crystal-ball appraisal of the state of international affairs in 2016 under R & R," I expect that our European allies will stand in disbelief, China and Russia will provide more challenges, and despite dramatic exhortations about the need for reducing the budget deficit, military expenditures will increase substantially to fight terrorism all over the globe, to enable probably two or three "absolutely necessary" military interventions into some recalcitrant countries, including Iran. By then our Islamic Fundamentalist enemies will have accumulated enough military know-how and weapons to maintain the entire Middle East (from the Mediterranean to Pakistan) in a continuous state of slow-burning civil war. Just remember that time is on their side; using the good/bad cop approach, whatever good we give them will eventually be used against us, whatever hell we give them will be used for further recruiting, training, indoctrination.

          Eventually, in terms of good and evil, it will be difficult to tell the difference between us and them. As Osama Bin Laden observed: we love life (so we have a lot to lose); they love death (so they are willing to die at any time while preparing to take us along). To be fair to Romney, either government unfortunately for the American people, seems to have not the foggiest idea about how to deal effectively with this enemy which now seems more sophisticated than the North Vietnamese/VietCong in protracted guerilla warfare in mountainous and populated areas.

          JE comments: One thing Tor Guimaraes hints at but Gov. Romney doesn't acknowledge: unilateral action always costs more than coalition-building. If you can get Russia and China on board for Iranian sanctions, even if they are "watered down," it's a lot less expensive than going it alone.

          Aren't we supposed to be tightening our belts?

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    • EU's Nobel Peace Prize (Nigel Jones, -UK 10/15/12 3:44 AM)
      I think I know why Americans like Tor Guimaraes and Paul Pitlick, who have traveled widely in Europe, and still more those US citizens who have not, still have a benign view of the European Union, in spite of the manifest damage which it is currently wreaking on the lives of its citizens--especially its young citizens.

      The reason is that distance lends enchantment: when Americans think about Europe--which most of them rarely do--the idea occurs that the EU is a sort of vague copy of the USA, a federation of states working together for the common good based on shared ideals of peace, freedom and democracy.

      I will endeavour in this post to demonstrate, as concisely as I can, why that is the exact opposite of the truth, and why the EU is leading the continent--and possibly, given the economic connectedness of modern globalisation, the world--into the abyss.

      1) The Democratic Deficit: The EU is first and foremost undemocratic. Its ruling body, the European Commission, which takes all key decisions, is formed of politicians who are appointed, not elected. The so-called European Parliament has no powers to initiate or debate its own laws, and is merely a giant fig-leaf to cover the nakedness of the EU's lack of democracy by rubber-stamping the EU's edicts (and to provide a handy income and pension scheme for its members). Anglo-Americans, who take their own robust democracies and freedoms too much for granted, may find it difficult to grasp this fundamental point, but a glance at the history explains why the EU is but the latest in Europe's melancholy history of totalitarian/ authoritarian ruling structures.

      2) Poisoned Roots: The European Union currently has 27 member states. Of these only three--Britain, Ireland, and Sweden--have not within living memory either been 1) Fascist dictatorships, 2) Communist dictatorships, or 3) Occupied by foreign powers who were either (1) or (2). Democracy, then, with all its freedoms, is a very recent and fragile flower in almost all of Europe, and sadly it is a flower which has now been trampled underfoot throughout the continent. The founding fathers of the EU--men such as Monnet, Schumann, de Gasperi, Spaak and Adenauer--distrusted democracy, because they believed that it was the mass manipulation of electorates that had brought dictators like Hitler to power. They therefore decided, for their new project, to try a new form of autocracy:  to govern by deception.

      3) Built on Sand: The founding fathers decided to keep the facade of democracy for their new institutions, but all real decisions were taken in secret conclave with the hidden aim of building, step by step, an authoritarian Europe-wide dictatorship. Thus the merging of France and Germany's iron and steel industries morphed into the European Economic Community, which morphed into the European Community, which morphed into the European Union, which will soon morph into the United States of Europe, or possibly just "Europe": an undemocratic, dictatorial behemoth, built behind the backs of Europe's peoples by a secretive elite in a giant game of Grandmother's Footsteps.

      4) Corruption:  The European Union is a gigantic Ponzi Scheme, and if it were a private enterprise its "directors" would be sharing a cell with Bernie Madoff. Each of its richer member states (primarily the northern ones led by Germany and Britain) contributes billions of Euros into central funds who are spent as the European commissioners and their army of officials (who incidentally pay no tax on their enormous salaries) see fit. This means that largesse is distributed to lunatic projects like an airport near Valencia from which no planes fly or an open-air ice rink in broiling Sicily, as well as to lining the pockets of the Euro Nomenklatura. It is no accident that no accountants have audited or signed off the EU's accounts for the last fifteen years. It is, in short, a fraudulent criminal conspiracy.

      5) Peace: As I said in my post last week commenting on the absurd decision by Norway's Nobel Committee to award their Peace prize to the EU, it is not the EU which has brought peace to Europe for the past half century, but NATO and its forces. To the contrary, the policies of the EU are now threatening the continent with civil unrest and even insurrection.

      6) The Eurozone: As part of their project to bring about an irreversible superstate, the Euro-elite needed to bind its members together with a common currency: the Euro. Unfortunately for them they allowed this political agenda to override the immutabile laws of economics. They allowed countries--principally southern ones, but also Ireland--to join a currency which yoked their interest rates to those of Germany. The resulting firestorm has been compared to harnessing a horse and cart to a speeding Mercedes or BMW. Millions of jobless Greeks, Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Irish and possibly soon French --are paying the price. The crisis has already compelled the EU to drop its mask of democracy by replacing elected Prime Ministers in Greece and Italy with their own minions, and has led to the grotesque situation of Angela Merkel, spawn of Hitler's and Ulbricht's Germany, being protected in Athens, birthplace of democracy, by 7,000 riot police from the rage of the Greek public (many dressed in Nazi uniforms). Some unity here! But the people have a right to be angry. Their futures have literally been deliberately destroyed by this insane idea, triggering a crisis with no foreseeable end.

      JE comments:  Nigel Jones and David Gress are in agreement on most of these points, but I'd like to highlight #5 for further discussion.  How can we be so sure that NATO, not the EU, has kept the peace in Europe since 1945?  The Nobel Committee, for starters, thinks otherwise.  I'm agnostic on the EU/NATO question, but must it be framed in either/or terms?  It seems to me that a combination of military alliance (NATO) and economic union (EU's common currency) has worked in tandem to make it unthinkable, say, for Germany ever again to roll into France.  Or Poland.

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      • Is the EU Undemocratic? (Jordi Molins, -Spain 10/15/12 6:11 AM)
        Nigel Jones (15 October) says the EU is "undemocratic." Let me highlight that it is nation states which are against providing democratic legitimacy to the EU bodies. It is the nation states which do not allow the EU to have its own budget, which do not call the European Council by its proper name (the President of the EU), which do not allow democratic elections to elect the President of the European Council, which keep two different bodies (the Eurogroup and the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs) instead of one called by its proper name (the European Finance Minister & Treasury), and which do not permit calling the European Commission by its proper name (the European Executive power).

        I believe there is already a trend that will turn upside down all these structures. In particular, sooner than later we Europeans will be able to elect our EU President.

        Nigel's statement that the construction of empty airports in Castelló is the EU's fault seems a joke, if it were not so sad. It is obviously and clearly the fault of Spanish politicians. If anything, the EU is guilty of falling into an "age of innocence."  Clearly, the EU has waken up from that dream, and currently the EU is putting a lot of pressure on the periphery to change.

        And this is the main reason why the EU has to survive: the EU and its pressure on the periphery is the only way for the periphery to make a "quantum leap" (as said by Monsieur Trichet) in governance. The periphery is captured by extractive networks which are applying harsh fiscal cuts (as opposed to structural reforms) to revolt the population against Europe, in order to keep their yoke on the periphery citizens. EU pressure is the only means we periphery citizens have to tame and control these extractive networks and bring our governance and institutions to a comparable Central European level. Internal change is impossible, as we have seen in the last decades. EU pressure is our only hope.

        JE comments:  I should add that Jordi Molins has recently relocated from London to his native Barcelona.  Several times in the past I have claimed that no people support the EU more than Spaniards in general and Catalonians in particular.  Might Jordi comment on the mood presently in Barcelona?  In light of the EU-imposed austerity, is my observation still valid?

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      • EU's Nobel Peace Prize (John Heelan, -UK 10/15/12 2:05 PM)
        As always, my countryman, Nigel Jones, presents a strong and persuasive argument about the iniquity of the EU (15 October) and the risks it presents not only to its members but also to the world. Most of his points I agree with, e.g. lack of true democracy, corruption and profligate spending.

        However, regarding NATO, as I have suggested before in WAIS discussions, NATO was and is as much an adjunct of the US military as the National Guard. Since its inception, its commanding officer has always been one of high-rank in the US military, whose first allegiance must be to his own C-in-C, the President. NATO's role is to protect US interests in the European theatre and increasingly elsewhere, to keep any killing fields as far away from the US homeland for as long as possible, and to provide another lucrative market for military equipment manufacturers and service providers.

        The salient point missing from Nigel's argument is, What is the alternative? Let's consider the potential effects of the EU's breaking up.

        Twenty-seven countries would withdraw into themselves, close their boundaries and start to compete via economic and fiscal means to attract commerce to their country and expand their export market. Isolationism would be the initial response. After a time, they would realise that they could not survive economically as a single nation-state and would start to make alliances. Those alliances would start to compete with each other for resources and markets. Neo-colonialism could well appear. Eventually, superpower blocs would start to swallow up the nation-states and alliances and, in turn, use them as proxies against other superpowers to protect the flow of resources and to keep the killing fields away from the superpowers' homelands. It has happened in the past in Europe and is happening now in the Middle East. Peace in Europe becomes threatened.

        Take the UK for example. Despite the hubristic chauvinism of some politicians, the UK could not stand alone either militarily or economically in a superpower world. Its obvious ally would be the US, for whom it would become as much a vanguard (some say a vassal) protecting US European interests, just as Israel and Taiwan protect US interests in their respective areas. Equally the UK would be as much a sacrificial pawn as are Israel and Taiwan, should a global sub-nuclear conflict break out between the superpowers.

        Another aspect of the EU break-up would be the extinction of the Euro as an international currency, as each of the twenty-seven countries reverted to its own currency. The costs of the change to businesses would affect the local economic conditions and national debt levels. (When the UK decimalised its currency in 1971, inflation crept up to 9%, as all companies in the value chains recouped the cost of conversion and rounded up prices in the new currency. Spain converted from pesetas to euros in 2002; inflation grew by 1%.) So an "abyss" also beckons should the eurozone break up.

        Of course the EU needs radical change to make it more open, democratic and less corrupt. But as far as I can see, at the moment, to adapt Benjamin Franklin's statement on signing the US Constitution, "We (Europeans) must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

        Perhaps Nigel would suggest an alternative to the EU for discussion.

        JE comments: I wonder if there is a typo in the levels of Spanish inflation post-2002. Was it 10%?

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        • on the EU (Nigel Jones, -UK 10/16/12 4:45 AM)
          I'm delighted that John Heelan (15 October) agrees with most of my critique of the EU, and am equally pleased to respond to his invitation to explain what I would envisage taking the place of this oppressive and sinister organisation which has done such damage to Europe.

          First, though, I'd like to pick up some of the points that John makes in defence of the EU and indeed NATO. As a dyed-in-the-wool critic of US foreign policy, I wouldn't expect John to love NATO, and I agree with him that it became essentially an instrument of the Pentagon and the State Department. However, in its origins NATO was the shield--along with the Marshall Plan--protecting western Europe from the very real menace of Soviet Communism. Throughout the Cold War it held the line and without it I have little doubt that much of Europe-- Greece and Italy certainly, France and West Germany possibly--would have succumbed to Stalin and his heirs. I'm not clear whether John would have welcomed this, but I would not and I'm darned sure that most Europeans would have preferred US hegemony to Soviet domination.

          John's arguments in defence of the EU are essentially economic ones, and I have no real quarrel with them. If the EU were truly an organisation intended to facilitate trade, break down unnecessary barriers, etc., between European nations--as we in Britain were led to believe when we voted in a referendum to stay in it back in 1975--I would back it to the hilt. But my point is that it is not. The economic advantages were a smokescreen designed to blind people to the real nature of the European "project": the construction of a superstate run by an un-elected, self-appointed arrogant elite who, as events have proved, could not run the proverbial whelk stall competently, let alone a continent.

          We, the peoples of Europe, have been constantly fed lies by the elite about the true nature of their "ever-closer union," but now, faced with the literally ruinous nature of the project, the people of Europe are rising up:  even as I write the people of Portugal are protesting in strength against the unprecedented austerity forced upon them as unwilling members of Germany's Fourth Reich.

          John says that the UK could not "stand alone in a superpower world." Why on earth not? Norway stands alone. Switzerland stands alone. Thailand and New Zealand and Australia stand alone. Uruguay and Chile stand alone. The UK is considerably larger than all of these free and independent states. All are members of various trading and defence alliances, but none have signed away their rights as sovereign nations to govern themselves and run their own affairs, rather than pass those powers to a sinister, secretive and supra-national bunch of bureaucrats as we so foolishly have.

          John may not like the nation state, but even in a "superpower world" (and when was the world not dominated by some superpower or superpowers?), people prefer to live among and be governed by their own kind and those they have elected to represent them. That was the basis of the American revolution, after all. John quotes Ben Franklin that we must all hang together or hang separately--but Franklin was talking about the US states, at the time people of one overriding language, one religion, and one culture who had voluntarily come together to found a new nation in an unexplored continent. Later immigrants to the US, though coming from diverse cultures and nations, all signed up happily to the principles of the founding fathers.

          The founding fathers of the EU, by contrast, tried to foist their warped vision upon a patchwork of ancient nations, speaking a babel of tongues, and with no wish to surrender their sovereignty to this elite. The EU, in brief, unlike the US which has grown up organically from the roots, is a top-down structure which is inorganic and diseased from the roots up. Even in the heart of a so-called "united Europe," nationalism is breaking out all over: eg. in Catalonia, Scotland and--most ironically of all--in Belgium. [See Gilbert Doctorow's post from earlier today, 16 October--JE.]

          John plaintively demands radical "reform" of the EU to make it more democratic, less corrupt etc., without seeming to see that the non-democracy and criminal corruption is part of its very structure. If it enacted the reforms he desired, it would cease to exist. And among the ruling echelons of the EU there is no desire for such reforms and no glimmer of any movement to make them anyway. (Why would, for example, France give up the manifestly unjust Common Agricultural Policy?) To the contrary, the EU shows every sign of continuing its merry way towards Hell.

          When one joins a club, there may be teething troubles, but generally speaking within a couple of years one accepts the rules and settles down. Britain joined the EEC (now the EU) around forty years ago, and opposition to it has never been higher. According to opinion polls, more than half of voters--a generation which has grown up knowing nothing other than the EU--want to leave, and an even larger majority want a referendum on our future in Europe. As the unsolvable Euro crisis worsens, this discontent can only grow. In truth the EU is inimical to our law, our economy, our history, tradition and wishes. It is certainly not a happy ship, and I believe it is a sinking ship.

          JE comments: Next up, a response to John Heelan from David Gress.

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        • on the EU (David Gress, Denmark 10/16/12 4:58 AM)
          I have to answer John Heelan (15 October) here.

          Why does John suppose that the breakup of the ill-fated EU would mean that 27 countries would withdraw into isolation? On the contrary, being free of the iron cage of the EU, all those countries would be free to form whatever united markets or other arrangements their democratically elected representatives might want. John has absolutely no evidence apart from his own EU-piety to say that they would act stupidly. Those who are acting stupidly, that is, in direct contravention of the interests of their peoples, are the current Machthaber (I know of no equivalent English word) of that monstrous apparat of control-freaks, the current EU, its unelected Commission, its opportunistic so-called Parliament, and the equally supine Council of Ministers.

          John speaks of the UK. He should know that most of UK foreign trade is with non-EU states, and that a departure of Great Britain from the EU would benefit rather than harm that nation. Which is why I cannot wait for the inevitable referendum in Britain: do we stay in the Titanic called EU, which has already hit its iceberg, or do we finally liberate ourselves?

          Irrelevantly, but to the damage of his argument, John adduces the decimalization of the British currency in 1971; something I, had I been an Englishman, would have strongly opposed. The old English currency was much easier to understand, pence, shillings, and pounds; what's the problem: all sums are divisible by 4, 3 and 2. John maintains, rightly, that decimalization increased inflation. Well, yes. Britain should have kept the L.s.d. Of course!

          John's final paraphrase of Ben Franklin misses the point entirely. Franklin was talking about a united, British nation divided into thirteen sovereign states, of which some allowed slavery and others not. He was speaking to a purely American-British audience. There is no comparison, none at all, to the diverse nations of Europe, who all deserve to be free of this terrible superstition called the EU. I can admire the English, the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Dutch, the Spaniards (including the Catalans, Jordi Molins!), whose languages I speak and whose histories and cultures I admire, without wanting this hellish uniformity.

          No, John. If we hang together, we are doomed. Give us our freedom as European peoples, and we will survive.

          And the sooner the euro dies, the better.

          JE comments: I'm fond of generalizing from just a handful of examples, but the most strident opponents of the EU in WAISworld hail from nations (UK and Denmark) that do not use the euro. Pure coincidence?

          It's been way too long since we've heard from our colleague Eugen Solf, from the finance capital of Frankfurt, but I'd love to know his thoughts on the EU and the eurozone crisis. Eugen--are you out there?  We've missed you!

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          • Alternatives to the EU (John Heelan, -UK 10/17/12 2:39 AM)
            My thanks to Nigel Jones and David Gress (both from 16 October) for their full answers to my speculative question about any alternative for Europeans to the EU. As both WAISers appear to be on the right wing of the political spectrum--taking the European notion of "centre" rather than that of the US--it is not surprising that there is harmony in their arguments about the EU. So perhaps they will forgive me if I respond to both in the same post.

            First a diversion about NATO. It is correct that NATO in part prevented Europe being overrun by Russian armour. (I mentioned in a post a few years ago a conversation I had with a senior Army officer in Berlin in the 1970s. I asked him if he could stop the Russians. His response was "no," but they could give them "a nasty poke in the eye!")

            In reality, it was not NATO that held the Russians back, but the US's superior nuclear capabilities and military spending. There was a personal cost to this boon. For twenty years, I lived within sight of a US Cruise missile base and the UK's main nuclear research and manufacturing facility, as well as being only 20 miles from the main UK nuclear research plant, Harwell. Chinooks flew low-level over my house at 10 PM every night, ferrying isotopes between Harwell and Aldermaston. It was "known" that a Russian 40 megaton nuclear weapon was targeted on this patch of English rural countryside. Although the UK was covered by the US Early Warning System (EWS) it was not covered by an anti-missile shield. So, we would have seen the flash of a pre-emptive or retaliatory strike an instant before becoming crispy toast.

            {By the way--it unworthy of Nigel to suggest I might have welcomed a Stalinist takeover of Western Europe. He knows my political views by now and that they are not Communist in any of its flavours.]

            Nigel considers that the UK could easily stand alone in the coming superpower world, citing Norway, Switzerland, Thailand , Australia/NZ, Uruguay and Chile, as examples, as the UK is bigger than any one of these. With respect, those comparisons are irrelevant, given that peace between nations is usually based on a "balance of power." In today's world that has become "balance of military nuclear power." US and Russia, India and Pakistan are examples. None of the nations quoted, including the UK, are military nuclear powers in their own right, but subject to leaning on an existing military nuclear power if necessary. Any nation that has such military power will fight tooth-and-nail to prevent another nation acquiring it and achieving a balance--as can be seen with US/UK/Israel's worries about Iran and North Korea.

            The coming superpowers will compete for diminishing known natural resources, just as the nation-states did in the last two centuries and this one. Norway's energy reserves might well tempt an energy-deprived superpower to take it over peacefully or otherwise, as would Australia's mineral resources to name but two, let alone those deposits in the polar regions.

            David Gress makes similar arguments about the perfidy of the EU governance structure. I agree with him--but why not change it? There are twenty-seven governments who, in the end, have the whip hand and could rein in the EU Commission and strengthen the EU Parliament if they felt so inclined as a body. (Are we saying that in an analogous situation that 50 US states could not change the US federal structure?) It would not be quick, but it could be done. Remember that the US itself took at least 100 years to settle down. The EU is a relative infant in such a timescale.

            David argues that leaving the EU would be economic disaster for the UK, as most of the trade is with non-EU countries (the formal trade figures dispute this assertion, but never mind). However, the same figures point out that the UK is a net importer. Trade in goods with the EU is 3.7 billion in the EU's favour, while trade with non-EU is 5.1 billion in the non-EU's favour. The goods imbalance is ameliorated by the hefty positive trade balance in services, amounting to 6.4 billion (mainly financial).

            However, financial services are the epitome of a transnational good. Given its reliance on technology, it does not matter where it is based--London, New York, Frankfurt, Bern or even Singapore. If the UK left the EU, it is not beyond the realms of reason that France, Germany or even China would seek to attract this lucrative export by offering substantial tax breaks and other inducements. Such a loss would exacerbate the UK's economic problems, which is why London's finance and banking industries have such a steely grip on UK governments irrespective of ideology.

            In summary, I am arguing that the outcomes of a break-up of the EU would not be as comfortable as Nigel and David predict. either in economic terms or in long-term political terms.

            JE comments: Should the UK leave the EU, what would happen to London's finance industry? John Heelan is the first to raise this question on WAIS, and it's a very important one.

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        • on the EU (Istvan Simon, USA 10/17/12 2:12 AM)
          I just would like to make two observations to John Heelan's post of 15 October:

          I am well aware of Nigel Jones's and other's complaints about the EU. I think that though they are correct about the defects of the EU, nonetheless, the EU is a remarkable political organization that did preserve peace between former enemies, like France, the UK, and Germany. So the Nobel Peace Prize is appropriate.

          It is true that the EU was less successful in more recent peace initiatives--the breakup of Yugoslavia which nonetheless was accomplished relatively peacefully, and has largely endured since. There is peace now in the former Yugoslavia.

          Another interesting example is the Baltic countries, Finland and Russia, and a failed case, Georgia and Russia, recently addressed from a Russophile point of view by Cameron Sawyer.

          On the other hand, I think that the monetary union, the eurozone, is a huge mistake, which created the problems with Greece, Spain, etc., and I believe it is doomed. The Euro should be a thing of the past, unless the countries that form the EU agree to surrender their economic policy to a large extent to the EU, something which has not happened, and I believe is unlikely to happen in the near future. The austerity program imposed by Germany on the rest of Europe is an incredibly stupid policy, which is creating a huge recession in Europe.

          It is noteworthy that Romney wants to copy this impractical policy. He won't have a chance, because he will be defeated in the coming election.

          JE comments: The breakup of Yugoslavia happened "relatively peacefully"? I doubt many would agree. On the contrary:  to most it seemed inconceivable that such barbaric killing fields and ethnic cleansing would ever again appear in Europe.

          While we're on the topic of Governor Romney, WAISer thoughts on last night's Presidential debate? I'm not interested so much in who "won"--I'd call it a draw, with perhaps a slight edge for the President--but rather its possible impact on the election outcome.  My early-morning judgment is that very few undecideds were swayed either way, although those leaning shakily pro-Obama were probably reassured in their choice.

          Three weeks from this morning, it will all be over...unless we see a repeat of 2000.

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          • EU: Blood on the Tracks (Nigel Jones, -UK 10/18/12 7:00 AM)
            With a certain weariness, and on the day when thousands demonstrate in Athens--with at least one death--against EU-imposed economic misery, I return to the sore subject of the EU.

            I find it very difficult to understand why Istvan Simon (17 Ocrober), with his own experience of Communist totalitarianism in his native Hungary, should have any sympathy at all for this new form of "soft" (no longer so soft either) totalitarianism.

            Boiling it down, the core pro-EU argument on WAIS seems to be the belief that it has kept France and Germany from going to war with one another again--as they did three times in the years 1870-1940.

            That does not seem sufficient reason to extirpate democracy in the rest of Europe. Would any American support a federal government which they had no opportunity of voting for, whose representatives resided in a foreign land, and which bled them white with a blizzard of taxes, charges, decrees, directives and other bureaucratic bull? No, of course they wouldn't. So why should we?

            That is the core, unanswerable argument against the EU. It is undemocratic. And therefore corrupt, criminal, and secretive too. Ultimately, people want to run their own lives, not have it run for them by a vast Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

            JE comments:  So are there any compelling pro-EU arguments beyond the "peace dividend"?  Incidentally, this was the specific reason cited by Nobel committee when announcing its decision.
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